An album is so often reduced down to its individual components, singled out for whatever is deemed its strong suit while everything else is given less importance. But this is impossible to do with Circuit, the latest release by Berlin-based British folk artist, Rowan Coupland. Everything is on equal footing here. This balance is not as easy to achieve as it may seem, but Rowan has accomplished it.
The first track, “Opening,” sets things up perfectly. It captures a sense of the album’s intimate, quiet power, with a delicately-played plucked harp acting as a beautiful background for Rowan’s spacey, haunting vocals. This is pure, unbridled folk, lonely and lo-fi, with a simple palette of instruments and captivating singing. Most amazingly, the album never loses itself — it’s a refreshingly consistent work.
Production-wise, Circuit feels like it was made in a local basement. I say this as a compliment. In the background behind the playful guitar at the beginning of “Bubblegum” there is a slight buzzing, almost like a muffled sound of rain — look no further to find the strength in Rowan’s DIY sound. With its quick, light vocal performance and bubbly production, “Bubblegum” is as instrumentally sweet as its title suggests. But its lyrics, forlorn and wistful, tell a more conflicted story: “and someone has come, and the summer has gone / and the hour’s getting on.”
I’m reminded of the music of Conor Oberst, especially his later solo work, where he so often tackled melancholic topics overtop a decidedly more upbeat tone. As Circuit continues, the music often veers into a softer, balladic territory (the piano-driven “C^n^di^n wholeearth ^lm^n^ck” comes to mind), but the comparison to Oberst still stands. Rowan’s lyricism often captures beautiful portraits of the minutiae of life, from internet cafes in “Bubblegum” to seances in “Cycling to Your House.” But he is equally good at crafting effective imagery and strange metaphors to speak about his most haunting experiences. The album’s best lyrics can be found on the track “Circuit,” where Rowan sings that “the tap is still on downstairs / but still nothing flows from it / we came to forget / what it was meant to do.” These are powerful, delicate words, and they are sung with passion.
Circuit is a beautiful set of tracks, balanced and well-performed. Its steady, confident tone, a thing which many albums across all genres fail to capture, is simple yet effective. Rowan is not reinventing folk here, but he’s sure doing it well.